By Bill ArmstrongDecember 12, 2008
FORT RILEY, Kan. - A Fort Riley Middle School student realized her dream of being a firefighter for a day Dec. 5 at Fire Station No. 4 on Huebner Road.
Brittany Greene said she had always wanted to learn more about firefighters, so she wrote a grant as part of her schoolwork.
"I wrote a grant for my careers class on why I wanted to be a firefighter," said Brittany. ""What I like about firefighting is helping people and giving them a second chance."
The eighth-grader got interested in firefighting after watching a movie about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, she said.
Unlike a traditional grant requesting money to fund a project, the school's grant-writing program allows students to be excused from their classes for a day in order to learn more about careers they are interested in.
"I was excited to see that Brittany got the grant and that she wanted to be a firefighter," said Amanda Graham, the Fort Riley Middle School language arts teacher who escorted Brittany during her fire station visit.
"I think that's something that would fit her personality. She's very caring about other people and likes to help other people. I called the fire department to see if it would be okay for Brittany to shadow them and when the grant got approved, I called back to set it up."
Brittany started her fire station tour with introductions, an overview of the fire station and a safety briefing by Fire Chief Michael Cook of Fort Riley Fire and Emergency Services.
"Basically the only ground rule that I have for you today is that you have to be safe at all times," Cook said.
After his briefing, Brittany asked the chief if the firefighters had a legendary spotted dog living with them at the station. The chief explained he does have a dalmatian at home, but because the dog is very protective, he is unable to keep it at the fire station.
Cook assigned firefighters Kathy Higgins and Chad Vukas to show Brittany into their work world.
"I want to make sure that Brittany knows that schooling is very important and in order to become a firefighter, it's a very long process," Higgins said. "You've got to go to even more schools after high school."
Moving from a break room to the station's large garage bay, the crew gave Brittany a close look at a shiny, red pumper truck, capable of toting 750 gallons of water to a fire.
"It's got this really awesome ladder rack on it that makes it easier to get ladders off because it actually folds down, and it's at a lower level," Higgins said, pointing at the ladders on top of the truck.
Moving along the side of the truck, Brittany pointed to various compartments, asking about their contents. One compartment revealed a stack of small duffel bags. Each was packed with medical equipment.
Behind another metal door were hose nozzles and fittings, allowing firefighters to mate hoses of different sizes to the truck's water outlets.
Brittany also followed Higgins into the truck's cab to see where six firefighters sit on their way to a fire.
Vukas handed a small thermal imager to Brittany. The imager allows firefighters to see people who may be trapped or injured in a burning building when normal visibility is too limited.
"Anything that's white is high temperature. Anything black is cooler," he said, as Brittany pointed the device at different objects around the garage bay.
Part of the student's learning experience included seeing how firefighters put on 75 pounds of protective gear and clothing while the clock is ticking.
"This gear is pretty heavy, and you have to be able to put this on in under a minute," Higgins said, pointing to a pile of gear on the floor.
Vukas made the job look easy when he showed Brittany how he suited up in less than one minute. But when Brittany tried putting on the gear, the extra straps, snaps and zippers presented a challenge for her. Vukas assured her she was not alone with her first-time struggle to beat the clock.
"We were all like that the first time around. It was like, 'How do I do this' We've got to do this in a minute''" Vukas said with a laugh.
Higgins demonstrated how to put a self-contained breathing apparatus onto her head.
After getting all of the clothing and special equipment on, Brittany then strapped the SCBA onto her face.
Staring out through the clear plastic shield and speaking in a muffled voice, Brittany said the mask felt suffocating.
When asked if she still wanted to be a firefighter after seeing for herself the amount of protective equipment they wear, she smiled.
"Yeah - it's fun!"
Her tour also included a ride on a fire truck, running the lights and sirens.